Climate change ‘to wreak bushfire havoc’

Climate change ‘to wreak bushfire havoc’

4 June 2007

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Australia — Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity ofbushfires in Victoria and more controlled burns are needed to help preventfuture disasters, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Victoria’s Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin said the state wasexpected to warm at a faster rate than the global average, bringing an increasedfire risk.

“Victoria is expected to experience warmer, drier and longer summerswhich are very likely to increase the frequency and intensity of bushfires,”Mr Esplin told the inquiry.

“The climate change risk is very real and has a major challenge for howwe plan, prepare and respond to fire.”

The inquiry, held by the environmental and natural resources committee, isexamining the impact of public land management practices on bushfires.

Monday’s first public hearing comes after bushfires last summer ravaged morethan one million hectares, mostly in the state’s north and east.

Mr Esplin said days of extreme fire risk were expected to increase by between25 per cent and 50 per cent by 2050, adding drought and bushfires would becomethe norm and wet years the exception.

While fire response capabilities were vital, the focus must be on preventionand mitigation strategies, he said.

Fuel loads had accumulated over the past 50 years and prescribed burning,while not a panacea for tackling bushfires, was a critical tool, the inquiry wastold.

“Prescribed burning is not without its own inherent risks yet it’s acritical tool in the firefighter’s tool kit,” Mr Esplin said.

“Much research indicates that it can significantly assist bushfiresuppression activities by reducing fire’s rate of spread.”

Communications and public education were also crucial, Country Fire Authority(CFA) chief executive Neil Bibby said.

He told the inquiry the public had shown a thirst for knowledge during timesof bushfire, with 53,000 calls logged to a bushfires information line lastsummer and the website receiving 2.3 million hits.

But some sections of the community were disengaged.

Mr Bibby said a new threat had emerged with the “sea change and the treechange” putting a large number of people and houses in the line of fire.

“We may have been lulled into a false sense of security, none of thoselarge fires (in these areas) had the intensity or the speed that the Canberrafires had or Ash Wednesday had,” he said.

“You add the demographics changes of the sea change and tree change andyou see the potential to have a disaster which is significantly likeCanberra.”

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